Where are Ed Miliband's fairweather friends?

The Labour leader is being bitten by the mouths that until last week were praising him.

Come on then, where are you? Purveyors of the "new politics", advocates of the new progressive order. Your man is in trouble. Ed Miliband is getting what is known in technical parlance as a bloody good kicking. And yet you're silent. You plastic loyalists are nowhere.

We were all supposed to be rallying around, weren't we? Marching in step. "Back the leader" was the mantra. Back the leader until he does something significant we don't like; then we can cut him loose.

My Twitter account is strangely silent. There are no angry missives from chief lieutenant Peter Hain today.

"The strikes are a mistake," said Ed Miliband on Friday. Then, we waited for his loyal aides to follow up in support -- and we waited. "I don't think political leaders, in opposition or in government, should either applaud strikes or condemn strikes," said Hain on Sunday. Jesus. With friends like these...

Miliband is leader of the Labour Party. In my opinion, he hasn't been a particularly impressive leader of the Labour Party, but at the moment he's the only leader we've got. He's not going to become a better leader by backing the strike action. I support the strikers, and I've said so. I think they have right on their side, and I think they have a chance of victory.

But once Miliband became leader of the Labour Party, he relinquished the luxury of speaking out exclusively on behalf of those with whom he has empathy. Once he was elected Leader of the Labour Party, he took on the responsibility of speaking for the country.

You were the ones that elected him -- those of you who now cry betrayal the loudest. You put him in that position of responsibility. And having done so, you now chose to castigate him when he exercises it.

What did you think you were doing -- electing the president of a student union? This man is putting himself forward for the job of prime minister of the country. He can't pick up a placard and take a stroll along the picket lines.

I wish he could. I wish we did live in a country where the majority of our fellow citizens were members of a trade union, and shared their values and objectives, but many of our fellow citizens don't. We know that, because we're on the streets, and David Cameron and Nick Clegg are sitting around the table with their feet up, having a good laugh at Miliband being bitten by the mouths that until last week were praising him.

You didn't actually believe all this rubbish about the new politics, and no more triangulation, and no more pandering the press, did you? There is no "new politics". There never will be. There is only the same soul-destroying, self-crucifying struggle to push the boulder back to the top of the hill. You knew that when you signed up, when you joined the Labour Party, when you chose to make a difference.

So come on, fairweather friends. You talked a good game when the sun was shining and you were basking in the accolades of the progressive majority.

Now let's see what you're really made of. Your man'st in trouble. That means you: Sadiq Khan, Peter Hain, Jon Tricket, Chuka Umunna, Seamus Milne, Neal Lawson, Jacqui Ashley.

I'm standing up for Ed Miliband. Where the hell are you?

 

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How to end the Gulf stand off? The West should tell Qatar to reform its foreign policy

Former defence secretary Geoff Hoon on the unfolding crisis in the Gulf. 

Only one group stands to benefit from a continuation of the crisis in Gulf: The Quartet, as they are now being called. Last week, The United Arab Emirates foreign minister tweeted that Qatar and its Gulf Cooperation Council neighbours are heading for a "long estrangement". We should take him at his word.

The European political establishment has been quick to dismiss the boycott by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt as naïve, and a strategic mistake. The received wisdom now is that they have acted impulsively, and that any payoff will be inescapably pyrrhic. I’m not so sure.

Another view: Qatar is determined to stand up to its Gulf neighbours

Jean-Yves Le Drian, France's foreign minister, was in the region over the weekend to see if he could relay some of his boss’s diplomatic momentum. He has offered to help mediate with Kuwait, clearly in the belief that this is the perfect opportunity to elevate France back to the top table. But if President Emmanuel Macron thinks this one will be as straightforward as a Donald Trump handshake, he should know that European charm doesn’t function as well in the 45 degree desert heat (even if some people call him the Sun King).

Western mediation has so far proceeded on the assumption that both sides privately know they will suffer if this conflict drags on. The US secretary of state Rex Tillerson judged that a Qatari commitment to further counter-terrorism measures might provide sufficient justification for a noble reversal. But he perhaps underestimates the seriousness of the challenge being made to Qatar. This is not some poorly-judged attempt to steal a quick diplomatic win over an inferior neighbour.

Qatar’s foreign policy is of direct and existential concern to the other governments in the Gulf. They will not let Qatar off the hook. And even more than that, why should they? Qatar has enormous diplomatic and commercial clout for its size, but that would evaporate in an instant if companies and governments were forced to choose between Doha and the Quartet, whose combined GDP is almost ten times that of their former ally. Iran, Turkey and Russia might stay on side. But Qatar would lose the US and Europe, where most of its soft power has been developed. Qatar’s success has been dependent on its ability to play both sides. If it loses that privilege, as it would in the event of an interminable cold war in the Gulf, then the curtains could come down.

Which is why, if they wanted to badly enough, Le Drian and Tillerson could end this conflict tomorrow. Qatar’s foreign policy has been concerning for the past decade. It has backed virtually every losing side in the Arab world, and caused a significant amount of destruction in the process. In Syria, Libya, Egypt and Yemen, Qatar has turned a blind eye to the funding of Islamic revolutionaries with the financial muscle to topple incumbent regimes. Its motives are clear; influence over the emergent republics, as it had in Egypt for a year under Mohamed Morsi. But as we review the success of this policy from the perspective of 2017, it seems clear that all that has been achieved is a combination of civil unrest and civil war. The experiment has failed.

Moreover, the Coalition is not going to lift sanctions until Doha suspends its support for the Muslim Brotherhood. When Western leaders survey the Gulf and consider who they should support, they observe two things: firstly, that the foreign policy of the Quartet is much more aligned with their own (it doesn’t seem likely to me that any European or American company would prefer to see a revolution in Dubai instead of a continuation of the present arrangement), and secondly, that Qatar would fold immediately if they applied any significant pressure. The Al Thani ruling family has bet its fortune and power on trans-Atlantic support; it is simply not credible that they would turn to the West’s enemies in the event that an ultimatum was issued. Doha might even welcome an excuse to pause its costly and ineffective programmes. Even if that involves some short term embarrassment. It is hardly going to lose support at home, with the highest GDP per capita in the world.

It would be necessary to make sure that the Coalition understands that it will have to pay a price for decisive Western intervention. The world will be a more dangerous place if our allies get the impression they can freely bully any smaller rival, knowing that the West will always come down on their side. That is however no great hurdle to action; it might even be a positive thing if we can at the same time negotiate greater contributions to counter-terrorism or refugee funding.

Unfortunately the reason why none of this is likely to happen is partly that the West has lost a lot of confidence in its ability to resolve issues in the Middle East since 2003, and partly because it fears for its interests in Doha and the handsome Qatari contributions in Western capitals. This cautious assessment is wrong and will be more harmful to Qatar and the aforementioned interests. The Quartet has no incentive to relent, it can’t afford to and will profit from commercial uncertainty in Doha the longer this drags on. If the West really wants this to end now, it must tell Qatar to reform its foreign policy or face sanctions from a more threatening ally.

Geoffrey Hoon was the UK defence secretary from 1999 to 2005.  

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